(April 6, 2017 / JNS) Despite owing part of its existence to the United Nations, Israel has experienced decades of bias from an institution whose stated mission includes trying to ensure international goodwill and world peace. Yet the nascent Trump administration, under the leadership of Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, is trying to chart a new course for the world body’s culture on Israel.
During her speech at the recent AIPAC policy conference, Haley described herself as the U.N.’s “new sheriff in town” and declared “the days of Israel-bashing are over.”
“I wear heels. It’s not for a fashion statement. It’s because if I see something wrong, we’re going to kick ’em every single time,” Haley said, earning loud applause.
The new envoy’s bold comments might be more than talk. The Israeli government claims it is already witnessing Haley’s positive influence in the international arena.
“Ambassador Haley and the Trump administration have changed the rules of the game at the U.N., and the results have reverberated throughout the organization,” Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon told JNS.org. “We intend to implement real and palpable change together with our friends at the American Mission.”
Bias at the Human Rights Council
While the U.N. is littered with bureaucratic bodies and commissions that routinely single out Israel for criticism, one of the most egregious examples of this bias is found within the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and its permanent “Agenda Item Seven,” which requires the council to discuss alleged Israeli human rights abuses against the Palestinians at every session.
“Agenda Item Seven is undoubtedly the most poignant, straightforward illustration of the UNHRC’s bias towards Israel,” Michal Hatuel, a research associate at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, with a focus on Israel’s standing internationally, told JNS.org. “As a result of Agenda Item Seven, Israel is the only country [among 193 U.N. member states] that has a permanent place on the council’s agenda—an absurdity which substantially taints the HRC’s credibility and which serves to undermine the entire U.N. organization.”
At this year’s session in late March, the UNHRC passed several resolutions condemning Israeli policy on the Palestinians and calling on the Jewish state to return control of the Golan Heights to Syria.
These resolutions prompted the U.K. to put the UNHRC “on notice” that if “things do not change,” it would start voting against all resolutions concerning Israel’s conduct in disputed territories. The British warning followed the Trump administration’s threat to pull the U.S. out of the council.
Hatuel believes the U.K.’s “on notice” policy might be a more constructive approach than threats to leave the human rights body.
“Such a policy creates an incentive for changing the HRC’s conduct. Should the change stall, an automatic U.K. vote against anti-Israel resolutions is far more meaningful and helpful to Israel than a complete absence of a ‘no’ vote,” she said.
As a result of the anti-Israel resolutions at the UNHRC, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently instructed his Foreign Ministry to withhold $2 million from its annual U.N. dues.
“The U.N. Human Rights Council has turned harming Israel into its raison d’etre,” Danon said. “The time has come to end to this shameful, and even embarrassing, chapter in the history of the U.N. Members of the council must put an end to the bias in this absurd body.”
Pro-Israel leadership at the U.N.?
Atop the U.N. hierarchy, there are signs of more Israel-sympathetic leadership. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who assumed the position from Ban Ki-moon at the start of 2017, has spoken out in support of Israel and has taken action against attempts by some U.N. bodies to single out the Jewish state.
In March, Guterres forced the withdrawal of a report—commissioned by the U.N.’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)—that accused Israel of apartheid. Guterres’s move prompted the head of ESCWA, Rima Khalaf, to resign.
Guterres also reaffirmed his recognition of Jewish ties to Jerusalem during a recent meeting with World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder.
While it is “still early to form a coherent take on Guterres,” his approach so far indicates that he is “committed to a more balanced U.N. on issues relating to Israel,” Hatuel said.
New sheriff at the Security Council
Haley, who this month assumed the U.N. Security Council’s presidency—a role that rotates monthly—has promised to refocus the council away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“So much has been put towards Israel and the Palestinian Authority and not enough has been put towards some of the other issues,” Haley said, noting she will focus an upcoming April 20 Security Council debate around issues such as Iran’s support for terrorism, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.
“That is our goal for the Middle East—open debate,” she said.
Last December, the Security Council passed a resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policies as well as describing eastern Jerusalem and its Jewish holy sites as “occupied Palestinian territory.” The measure passed after the Obama administration refused to exercise its veto power, breaking with decades of U.S. policy on resolutions one-sided resolutions targeting Israel.
Haley said she has warned the Palestinian Authority’s U.N. representative, Riyad Mansour, that the U.S. will block any Arab-sponsored motions targeting Israel.
“We don’t want to see any additional measures brought at the U.N. that would bash Israel or lift up the Palestinian Authority until we can get these negotiations to happen,” she said, referring to a possible future round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. “And I do think that the discussions that have happened at the U.N. have been more of a hindrance towards the peace process than it’s been a help, because it’s caused defensiveness to happen.”